Wendesday Senator Max Baucus unveiled his plan to extend health coverage to more than 30 million uninsured Americans, providing a detailed look at a legislative proposal that meets many of the requirements that President Obama laid out in his address to Congress last week.
The proposal is the result of more than a year of preparation by Mr. Baucus, the chairman of the Finance Committee, and three months of intense talks among a small group of Democrats and Republicans. The three Republicans in that group are so far refusing to endorse the bill but negotiations will continue in the days ahead.
In a news release accompanying his 223-page proposal, Mr. Baucus said that he had pared the 10-year cost of the bill to $856 billion, the lowest of the major health care proposals advancing in Congress so far. Other plans had come in with price tags of $1 trillion or more, and the high cost was seen as an obstacle to public support.
The legislation would vastly reshape the $2.5 trillion-a-year health care industry, which accounts for roughly one-sixth of the American economy, the New York Times reports.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) seized on the lack of GOP support for Baucus' bill in a statement on the bill released moments ago. "Forcing through a partisan bill gives the impression that Democratic leadership and the White House are more concerned with political victories than they are with passing lasting, bipartisan health care reform," said Cornyn.
While it is entirely possible that the bill will be changed enough before it comes to a vote to attract some Republican support, the real question raised by the Baucus bill is whether passing a bipartisan bill really matters to the average voter.
The new Washington Post/ABC News poll provides contradictory data on this question.
On the one hand, more than seven in ten (71 percent) said that President Obama and Democrats in Congress should try to change the bill to attract some Republican support while just 29 percent said they should try and pass the legislation without any GOP support.
On the other, less than one third of the sample (31 percent) said they believed Republicans were operating in "good faith" to find compromise with Democrats on health care reform; Fifty percent said Obama and Congressional Democrats were operating in good faith, the Washington Post reports.
Like other legislation, the bill would also substantially expand eligibility for Medicaid, the 44-year-old state-federal health insurance program for the poor, which in some states currently covers only poor children and their families.
Under all the Democratic bills, Medicaid would be opened to all of America's poorest residents, regardless of their family status.
Provisions in Baucus' bill would also set up a series of new initiatives in Medicare to make that gargantuan federal program more efficient, including incentives for hospitals to reduce re-admissions and for doctors to do more to coordinate their patients' care.
These initiatives, though the least controversial parts of the healthcare legislation, are seen by many experts as crucial to reducing the growth in Medicare spending, which threatens to essentially bankrupt the program by 2017, Los Angeles Times reports.